A badly wounded Canadian drinking hot coffee at Soup Kitchen 100 yards from Boche lines during push on Hill 70. Aug. 1917. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-0015
In the summer of 1917 the Allied armies in Belgium were fighting around Ypres again, this time around a hamlet called Passchendaele. From June until November 1917, Allied and German soldiers were locked in desperate battle in the soupy mud of Flanders fields.
The Canadian Corps was not involved in the first several months of fighting in Passchendaele. Instead, it was given the task of launching an attack away from the battle to pull German troops and supplies away from Passchendaele. After the victory at Vimy Ridge, Lieutenant General Julian Byng was promoted to command of the British Third Army. This operation would be led by the new commander of the Canadian Corps, Major General Arthur Currie of Victoria, BC.
Hill 70 was the high ground outside of the German held city of Lens. Arthur Currie knew that if the Canadians captured the hill the German defenders would be forced to try to take it back.
Arthur Currie planned to use the hill as bait. The plan was to make a ‘bite and hold*’ attack on Hill 70.
The hill and other objectives were taken on August 15. Instead of rushing into Lens to continue the attack, the Canadians stopped, brought up ammunition, grenades, machine guns, and telephones to call artillery. Over the next four days and nights the German Army counter-attacked 21 times, and each time they retreated after taking heavy losses.
By August 25 the major fighting on Hill 70 and around Lens had slowed to a standstill. Despite taking 9,000 casualties themselves, the Canadians managed to inflict 25,000 casualties on the German army. The goal of disrupting German reinforcements and siphoning supplies from Passchendaele was achieved.
* A tactic pioneered by the French Army and used extensively in the second half of the war. The idea was to take a small ‘bite’ of enemy territory, and then ‘hold’ it against counter-attacks. Once the ‘bite’ was taken the attackers would rush ammunition, reinforcements, and machine guns forward to help defeat enemy counter-attacks. Bite and hold tactics confer the advantage of the defender on the attacker by allowing them to stay in the captured trench while repelling counter-attacks. Once the ‘bite’ is secure, then another ‘bite’ can be taken, starting the process again.
Likely born in Toronto, but orphaned at a young age, William was adopted from an orphanage in Belleville by a worker and her husband. He was raised on a farm in Adolphuston.
Having moved out west to ranch, William enlisted in Calgary with the 137th Battalion in February of 1916. Once overseas he was transferred to the 31st Battalion and was in France by November.
Temporarily attached to the 6th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, William sustained a severe gunshot wound to the leg during the second day of the Battle of Hill 70. Invalided to England, William was treated in a series of hospitals. While convalescing, he met his bride-to-be, an Irish lass who came to the hospital to sing to the patients.
By 1926 William and his new family had made Keewatin their home.
Returning to Canada after the Armistice with a war bride, Ernest Angood was instrumental in the founding of the Great War Veterans’ Association (Canadian Legion).
Born in Chatteris, Cambridge, England, Ernest immigrated to Canada around 1910, finding work with the Canadian Pacific Railway out of Kenora. He was a member of the ‘Peterborough Boys’, a group of immigrants that for the most part, lived at the YMCA.
Ernest enlisted in Kenora on May 25, 1915, embarking for England with the 52nd Battalion that November. In the days following the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Ernest was awarded the Military Medal for his actions in collecting wounded under fire and bringing the party to safety.
Ernest sustained a gunshot wound to the shoulder during the second last day of the Battle of Hill 70. Invalided to England, his service in France had come to an end.